XXX – A Grammar of Mourning in France

Jayet, Luce - PortraitWhat is a family? The question has been on my mind for the past few months as I research and write on these close and distant relatives — figures ranging from my own mother, with whom I speak on the phone every evening, and, say, Fefa, my great-grand aunt whom I knew a little in Cuba, to Fanny G. Vidaud, who was Fefa’s third cousin or my second great-grandfather Alberto’s second cousin… Let’s face it, this family thing includes perfect strangers. The twigs in the family tree are so expansive that sometimes it seems as if they were growing in altogether different and far-flung woods. The Vidaud tree grows in Brooklyn as strongly as it does in Pau or in Guantánamo, but is it still one and the same tree? Can the arts of genealogical botany encompass all of us in any meaningful way? The fact, such as it is, remains that Fanny, for instance, and I do share a common ancestor, but what to make of it? As I recounted earlier, five French brothers went to Saint-Domingue during the Reign of Terror, and two of them, François Vidaud du Dognon de Boischadaigne (a.k.a. François No. 7) and Pierre Vidaud du Dognon de Pomerait (a.k.a. Pierre No. 10), were married and had children on this side of the Atlantic. The story, of course, is far more tangled and full of gaps than the sentence I just wrote would suggest. As it turns out, it seems that both brothers may have returned to France, yet later found themselves in Cuba, and suddenly they were back in France or… Be that as it may, Fanny, who descends from Pierre, and I, who descend from François, may be said to share some remarkable leaves in the book of botany. Through the work of other arboreal researchers who have posted their findings online, I can tell you that two of Fanny’s sixteen second great-grandparents and two of my two-hundred and fifty-six (yikes!) fifth great-grandparents are one and the same couple. His name is André Martial Vidaud and hers is Luce Jayet de Beaupré. (That’s her picture posted here and, truth be said, I detect a certain air de famille with both Fanny and me.) According to M. Vallantin Dulac‘s “Généalogie de la famille Vidaud du Dognon,” André Martial was “chevalier, comte du Dognon, seigneur du Carrier, de La Dourville, etc.,” and Luce was the daughter of Barthélemy Jayet, seigneur des Bauries, identified as “un des commensaux du roi,” by which are meant some prestigious things related to dining with the king… As the reader can see, the Blogger is crafting some elective affinities here; I’m strangely fond of Fanny, so I’m willfully sending a drone into the sky to take a global picture of our distant forests and, hopefully, perhaps even a quick snapshot of our gnarly common trunk.

Vidaud de Pomerait, Comte du Dignon - Faire-partThere are indeed documents from the past in which many of these figures I’ve been invoking are made to perform a collective act whereby one can confirm, if not the existence of a family, at least a familial make-up. A death in the family, so to speak, may trigger such an act. Consider the mournful faire-part posted here. On 20 October 1907, in Pau, Pierre Paul Vidaud de Pomerait, the comte du Dugnon, passed away at the age of 81. As the two final lines state, the Count was someone’s husband, father, father-in-law, brother, brother-in-law, uncle, first cousin, or yet another kind of cousin. If one reads the faire-part closely, one notices that it consists of just one sentence — one long sentence consisting of more than two-hundred and fifty words, elegantly punctuated by semicolons. What’s more, in a stunning feat of grammar, these multitudinous relatives, whose names occupy most of the faire-part, are the seemingly endless compound subject of the little single verb ont — “they have.” In fact, the subject of the sentence — the family members reunited here — contains sixty-three proper names, and that’s not even including “leurs enfants” (an untold number of children), plus a few other surnames thrown in vaguely at the end. The predicate of the sentence invokes a circumspect tale of universal mourning — an act of carefully orchestrated sympathy and mourning. All who are mentioned — this Monsieur, and that Madame, their proliferating “enfants” — “ont l’honneur de vous faire part de la perte douloureuse qu’ils viennent d’éprouver en la personne de Monsieur Vidaud Pomerait, Comte du Dugnon.” All of these variously interlocked names have the honor of sharing the painful loss that they have just suffered in the person of the Count.

The person of the Count, alas, lacks a full proper name, but the faire-part itself, it must be said, is the pinnacle of propriety. As one of our French distant cousins mentioned in an email to one of my Miami not-so-distant cousins not long ago, families back then were “très protocolaires.” The person of the Count, I repeat, is an octogenarian body casting a last autumnal glimmer over a vast number of figures performing the action of a common verb.

But who are these figures? The first three paragraphs — if those initial phrases can be called that — invoke the six members of the Count’s immediate family. Madame Vidaud de Pomerait, the Comtesse du Dugnon, was at first a mystery to me because, according to M. Vallantin Dulac’s “Généalogie,” the Count was a widower, his second wife having died by 1889. I wondered whether there could be an unaccounted-for third wife, but as it turns out, another genealogy inverts the order of the Count’s two marriages. It appears that his second (not first) wife was Delphine Chagneau, whom the Count married in Bordeaux in 1874, after the death of Claire Louisa Gallot Delesalle, his first wife and the mother of his two sons, in 1868. Listed next in the faire-part, the Baron and the Baronne Paul du Dugnon are the Count’s oldest son, Paul Joseph, who will now be the Comte du Dugnon until his death in 1913, and his wife, Herminie Ubelhart Lemgruber, who, according to Vallantin Dulac, was born in Rio de Janeiro into “une riche famille de banquiers brésiliens” and lived on 36, avenue du Bois-de-Boulogne, rechristened avenue Foch after the Great War. The Baron Louis du Dugnon is Louis Edmond Henri Vidaud du Dognon de Pomerait, the Count’s youngest son and a widower; like his older brother, he too would die not that long thereafter, on 17 October 1914, killed by shrapnel — “un éclat d’obus” — at the onset of the war near the Pas-de-Calais. Two children, Claire (after her paternal grandmother?) and Jean du Dugnon, are listed next. They are Paul Joseph and Herminie’s children; according, again, to Vallantin Dulac, Rosa Paule Claire would go to live in Brazil, while Jean Marie Paul, only fourteen upon his grandfather’s death, would become the comte du Dugnon after his father died. Jean himself did not have any descendants; more on him, the childless count, I hope, in an upcoming entry.

The Count is then mourned by two widowed sisters and two widowed sisters-in-law, in that order. Their biographies and those of their dead husbands tell the transatlantic story of the Vidauds. Madame John Durand is Marie Anne Méloë Vidaud du Dognon de Pomerait, born in Gradignan, near Bordeaux, and married to a man from Brooklyn; I still don’t know what John Durand’s relationship to Étienne Octave Vidaud (Fanny’s father and the Count’s and Marie Anne Méloë’s late brother) might have been, but his name suggests deeper ties between the Vidauds and the United States than I was aware of. Madame Henri Lafont (not Lafond) is Marie Joséphine Vidaud du Dognon de Pomerait; she was born in Santiago de Cuba, where she married Henri Lafont, who was later a doctor in Pau, where he died in 1905. Madame Ernest Vidaud du Dognon de Pomerait is Marie Bernadac, whom we have seen before wearing a formidable headdress; her husband, also a doctor like Henri Lafont, is the rather handsome man whose face I tried to read several months ago in a belated and improvised act of physiognomy. Madame Émile Vidaud du Dognon de Pomerait is Mariana de Arce, born in Santiago de Cuba. Émile too was born there, but lived in France before returning to his hometown.

Vidaud, Pierre HenriNext on the list of mourners are the Count’s nephews and nieces, plus the children of these, as well as some in-laws. First are the children of Étienne-Octave, the Count’s eight nephews and nieces born in Brooklyn: Robert, plus wife and children; Édouard, or Edward, a bachelor; three sisters married to men surnamed Van Nostrand, Clarke and Hunter; and three unmarried sisters, including Fanny, who — unlike her siblings, probably — must have met the Count and his immediate family on her European trips. Then comes John Durand, Marie Anne Méloë’s husband, followed by his son, Maurice, plus the latter’s wife and son. Suddenly there appear the rather mysterious Colonel et Madame Ulpiano Sánchez-Echavarría. Their name invokes the realm of operetta, but she happens to be Emilia Vidaud Arce, daughter of Émile Vidaud du Dognon de Pomerait and Mariana de Arce, and he a Teniente Coronel de Infantería, according to the Anuario militar de España, who fought for Spain during Cuba’s War on Independence. Then comes a solitary Mademoiselle Aguirre, who must be, following M. Vallantin Dulac, a certain Lola, the daughter of the Count’s sister, Fanny, who in turn was born in Santiago de Cuba and married one Elías Aguirre; Lola would die in Pau, but I don’t know why or when she moved there. (Our Brooklyn-born Fanny must have been named after her late aunt.) But one figure that stands out, simply because of the number of words attached to his name, is “le Capitaine d’Artillerie Henri Lafont, officier d’ordonnances du Général commandant la 14e division d’Infanterie.” Like his mother, Marie Joséphine Vidaud du Dognon de Pomerait, Pierre Henri was born in Santiago de Cuba, but died far from there, in Romania, on 29 November 1918, only less than three weeks after the Armistice. There is much about him on the Web. We know that he lived at 9, rue Montpensier, in Pau; that he had chestnut hair, gray eyes and a dimpled chin; that he died from an illness acquired on the front… The phrase “mort pour la France” often appears next to his name, and his name also appears on a plaque at the Invalides in Paris. I have also found his picture, reposted here, on several genealogical websites. It’s a melancholy countenance, that of General Lafont. I’m not sure how old he was when he arrived in France, and I wonder whether he had any memories of Cuba when, far from Pau, in the city of Iași, in eastern Romania across the border from present-day Moldavia, he knew he was dying.

The next paragraph, which is also quite long, starts with various figures whose names are only vaguely familiar to me. But their connection to the Count can be ascertained by googling and clicking with a measure of intelligence and sang-froid. Yes, you must be alert not to lose your way in the forking paths, and yes, you must be willing to trespass in other people’s woods and climb their trees. Take, for instance, Monsieur et Madame de Masfrand. Who could they be? As it turns out, she is one Marie Henriette Clara Durand, who married Léopold de Masfrand, and her parents are Jean-Michel Durand and Marie Marthe Théophile Vidaud du Dognon de Pomerait (ah! who?), who in turn is the deceased sister of Pierre Vidaud du Dognon de Pomerait, the Count’s father — which, if my botany doesn’t fail me, makes Madame de Masfrand the Count’s first cousin, right? That Marie Anne Méloë, the Count’s sister, is married to John Durand (or is it Duran?) of Brooklyn only serves to further entwine the windblown twigs. In the end, what matters more than absolute clarity is that all are reunited in the act of mourning and the faire-part’s grammatical subject.

And then, in mid-paragraph, the faire-part invokes the various descendants, many living in Cuba, of François No. 7 and his two sons, Adelson and Adolphe. Marking Adelson’s primogeniture, his four daughters are listed first: the Mesdemoiselles Clémence and Louise Vidaud du Dognon de Pomerait, both unmarried; Madame de Carlos Lecumberri, whose name was Josefa, and whose husband was a lieutenant-coronel for Spain who appears to have died in Cuba’s War of Independence; and Madame Lucciardi, Suzanne, whose husband, Eugène Lucciardi, was a French diplomat stationed in La Paz, Santiago de Cuba, Sydney and Prague. (I shall come back to some of these characters in the future.) And then, finally, almost last and not quite least, are Adolphe’s two sons and five daughters: Alberto, plus his wife and children; Severo, the eternal bachelor; María, with her husband, Rafael Llopart i Ferret, children and grandchildren in Catalonia; Juana Amelia, also in Catalonia, whose husband, Rafael Calbetó i Sambeat, had already died; Carlota, who I believe may have lived with one of her married sisters; Magdalena, a pianist, who spent time in France and Spain (where she studied with Enrique Granados) before returning to Guantánamo; and Matilde, the youngest, married to Fulgencio Gonzales-Rodiles and the mother of María Magdalena, nicknamed Nunú, the notebook writer.

Vidaud Caignet, Alberto & Felicia Trutié GautierWhat remains of all these names? The Count died more than a century ago, so the likelihood that anyone still alive knew him, or knew any of the various other figures mentioned here, is little. Fortunately, the children — those enfants mentioned over and over again — and even grandchildren are a different matter. Consider the phrase “Monsieur and Madame Albert Vidaud du Dognon de Pomerait et leurs enfants.” Those names and nouns invoke my second great-grandfather, Alberto Vidaud Caignet, who owned (or not) La Reunión; his wife, Felicia Trutié Gautier, about whom I know little. This is their picture here, sitting on some veranda. They had four boys and three girls, and those children, all long dead by now, included Alberto Vidaud Trutié, whose grandchildren and great-grandchildren I’m just beginning to meet online; María Vidaud Trutié, or Maluya, my great-grandmother, whose picture I posted earlier; and Josefa Felicia Vidaud Trutié, our beloved Fefa, who took care of me and whose memory is still alive on both coasts of these United States, if not in Cuba itself. Those children lived in a provincial city in a newly independent republic in the Americas and, by an act of grammar, they, now young men and women, crossed the Atlantic and became subjects in the death of an old man — a nobleman yet, like in some uncanny fairy tale — who lived in another provincial city in a far older republic that once upon a time had been the mightiest kingdom in Europe, and… The rest, I’m afraid, is blogging, by which I mean imagining things, making up stories.

If every story has a narrator and a narratee, as a distinguished Frenchman once put it, inquiring minds may want to know who tells the tale told in the faire-part and to whom it is addressed. I don’t know who authored the announcement of the Count’s death, but the their-person voice in the text fashions itself as omniscient. It knows all in the family and their degree of proximity to the Count’s person. It speaks to a figure succinctly identified as “vous” — a “you” to whom the multiple names that make up the subject of the sentence communicate the news of a painful loss. As fossilized as its formulaic language may sound, the faire-part still speaks to me. But if I identify with the “you” to whom the sad news is told, I may well assume I’m not a member of the family, if only because I was born decades later. Yet, even as I undertake the announcement of the Count’s death to you, whoever you may be, I become its new narrator, perhaps even a new subject in this ancient grammar of mourning. Strangely, belatedly, I too become a melancholy figure not unlike any other member of the family, whatever we may mean by family.


XIV – A New Year Story

Ana María y Josefina de niñasIt probably happened on the first day of 1940, or maybe 1941. My grandparents had a farm called Río Frío in the Sierra Maestra, in the outskirts of El Cobre, about an hour or so by car from Santiago de Cuba. It was not La Reunión, but now that it has been abandoned for several decades, overgrown by the forest, its main house forlorn and virtually destroyed, Río Frío has acquired an equally legendary status among members of the family. My grandmother, Carmela, living in Exile, often reminisced about Río Frío in terms that would not have been out of place in the mouths of postlapsarian Adam and Eve. I could go on an on about Río Frío, but tonight that ideal farm is only the point of departure for this brief new year story. On that first of January, Carmela and her husband, Sebastián, along with their daughters, Ana María and Josefina, were traveling by car toward Santiago de Cuba to visit Carmela’s mother, María Vidaud Trutié, who lived on calle San Félix 367, the same house where both girls had been born. Maluya, as Felicia was known, has married a soldier in Cuba’s War of Independence, but she was a proud Francophone. In order to impress her, Carmela spent most of the car trip to the city teaching Josefina, her youngest, how to wish her grandmother a happy new year in French. “Bonne année, bonne année, bonne année” — the phrase was said and repeated many times so that the little girl could learn it, and it seemed she had. As soon as they reached Maluya’s house, Carmela asked Josefina to greet her grandmother with the newly acquired words. But nothing would come out of Josefina’s mouth. I’d like to say there was absolute silence, but being a Cuban household, albeit inhabited by descendants of the Gauls, that’s hard to imagine. Carmela kept insisting. Josefina kept thinking. Everyone was expectant. Finally, the little girl opened her mouth and said to her grandmother, “Abuela, good-bye!”

Good-bye — so long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, adieu! In less than twenty years after that memorable first of January, the Cuban Revolution came to power, rapidly leading to many iterations in many families of the word good-bye. If I had to write a play or make a film about those farewells, I would choose Beethoven’s piano sonata No. 26 as its incidental music. Indeed, the three sections of “Les Adieux” — the farewell itself, the absence, and the return — invoke many a story of migration. Yet, in the case of those who left Cuba in the early sixties, that third section — which Beethoven called “Das Wiedersehen” and whose tempo he described as “Im lebhaftesten Zeitmaße” (“the liveliest time measurements” or “vivacissimamente”) — will likely never be played. Fortunately, one can listen to Beethoven here, or here, and imagine that those two girls see Río Frío again.

V – Bluish Blood

Desperately seeking La Reunión, I consulted with María Caridad Lecha, my cousin in Maryland with whom I share an interest in the family twigs. Mari had seen a posting of mine on Facebook, so she too was curious about the elusive ownership of the coffee and cacao plantation in the Sierra Maestra, and wanted to get to the bottom of things. All who might have shed some light on the mystery were now dead, so we called a séance to summon up the specters haunting the web. At some point, surfing the digital oceans from our respective bicoastal locations, both Mari and I had found a website titled Généalogie de la famille Vidaud du Dognon par Philippe Vallantin Dulac, and that’s where we went forthwith. M. Vallantin Dulac had thoroughly chronicled the descendants of one Jean Martial Vidaud.  Born in Limoges in 1684, he was one of fourteen children of Jean Vidaud, whose many nobiliary titles, rather formidable, I will simply copy and paste: “comte du Dognon, baron de Murat et de Brignac, seigneur du Carrier, Bosviger, Saint-Priest-Taurion, Lamberterie, Aigueperse, Pommeret, Lorny, Launet, etc., lieutenant particulier au siège présidial de Limoges, lieutenant général d’épée du Limousin, chevalier de l’ordre de Saint-Lazare de Jérusalem et de Notre Dame du Mont Carmel.” Jean Martial’s mother was Anne de la Farge, whose father, Abraham, was mayor of Angoulême in 1660 and 1661 and also held the title of seigneur de Pommeret.

Vidaud, Dognon, Pommeret. For most common mortals these names mean nothing, but Mari and I had known them for as long as we could remember. Vidaud was the maternal surname of our maternal grandmother, Carmen de Granda Vidaud, so we were very familiar with that. But Dognon and Pommeret took us back directly to Alberto, or Albert, Vidaud, Carmela’s beloved cousin, nicknamed Bébé or Bebé. Born in 1912, Bebé Vidaud deserves a biography of his own, not this little blog. He came to the United States in time for World War II and served in the South Pacific. The U.S. Army records show that he enlisted in Brooklyn for the Philippine Department. His job was to read and censor, when needed, letters written in French. His own letters too were subjected to the censor’s scissors, but a surreptitious mention of parakeets in one of them allowed the family back in Cuba, where “periquitos australianos” were a thing, to guess he was stationed in Australia. For the rest of his life, Bebé would invoke “mi general McArthur” proudly, in Spanish.

Bébé Vidaud, 2Bebé, pictured here in 1971, did not return to live in Cuba, so he was spared the toils of revolution and the trauma of Exile. Instead, he went to work for Pan American Airways in Miami. Once he retired, the airline allowed him to continue traveling the world for free. He crisscrossed Europe endless times, and postcards would regularly arrive from places such as Brazil and South Africa. A bon vivant, he relished food and drink, religion and, yes, sex. Carmela, a devout Catholic, was shocked when Bebé, a divorced man in his sixties or seventies, revealed that he had a young girlfriend in Costa Rica — “mi amorcito costarricense,” he called her. But she was elated when, after his fourth trip to the Soviet Union, he was banned from entering the country again, having been caught leaving photocopies of his religious meditations, composed in a trance-like state, at the airport in Moscow. Bebé was passionate about all he undertook, and that included tracing his family tree, which, following a cue from Carmela, led him to the astounding discovery that he was the direct male descendant of Jean Martial Vidaud and, therefore, the comte du Dognon and seigneur de Pommeret, or something along those lines.

Vidaud Family Crest - AbuelaM. Vallantin Dulac’s genealogy site starts with Jean Martial because he was the only one of Jean’s fourteen children who passed on the name Vidaud to the next generation. Somehow, Carmela had figured out that her young cousin Bebé was the next count in line. I now wish that I could ask her about her methodology, but I suspect it consisted mostly of long conversations with Albert, or Alberto Vidaud, her and Bebé’s grandfather, at La Reunión, drinking chocolate on rainy afternoons or else after dinner, as Vidaud grand-père sipped his cognac. Or maybe she half-imagined the whole thing, just as I am making up aspects of her life in vanished Oriente. But Bebé, the traveler and genealogist, was the real thing. He visited France many times, consulting archives in Limoges and elsewhere. His findings included that one of the ancient Vidauds was a nun in the sixteenth century and that she had inherited a desk from her father. On one occasion, Bebé gave Carmela a cheap photocopy of the Vidaud family crest, seen here, now in Mari’s good hands. Using blue and yellow pencils, my grandmother colored the golden lion and three fleurs-de-lys on the field of azure with as much devotion, I imagine, as she devoted to drawing the coat of arms of the newly established Republic of Cuba when she was a little schoolgirl.

Delusion of grandeur, a feeling of orphanhood, the melancholy of exile, an obsession with the dead, a sense of the past, a longing for other times and places, the pleasure of storytelling, a love of mazes and puzzles, curiosity, adventurousness, boredom, sleep procrastination — these are some of the causes of this botanical fervor, this twisting and turning of twigs, this climbing up the meaningless family tree. Bebé felt it too. He died in 1989, eleven years before Carmela, and I know it broke her heart. They must have known each other for seventy years or so, and must have had countless conversations in Spanish and French — or, more often than not, in Spanish with words interspersed in French. I was there, in Exile, in Puerto Rico, during one of their last reunions. I wish I could remember the details of the strange episode he recounted, which, according to my mother, never took place. It had happened only a few months earlier. At the airport in Miami, near the Pan Am counter, Bebé was approached by a French gentleman who informed him, Bebé, that he, not Bebé, was the direct descendant of Jean Martial Vidaud and, therefore, the true comte du Dugnon and seigneur de Pommeret, etc. The conversation was short and reportedly very polite, as behooved an encounter between a French aristocrat and his distant Cuban cousin, a searcher who had fervently pursued happiness like the good American he had become.

1962 - Vista Alegre - 2With La Reunión up for grabs and our countship lost, I’m happy to say that at least we possess some photographs no one can take away from us, especially now that they freely float on the web. This must be one of the last pictures of some the last Vidauds in our branch of the family in Cuba. It was taken at my father’s childhood home in the Vista Alegre district of Santiago de Cuba in 1962. It was three years into the revolution, after the Bay of Pigs but before the October missile crisis, yet the image appears fastidiously ancien régime. The little boy with the big ears to better hear (and record) with is me, your blogger. To my right, static in her little black dress, is Ana María, my mother, who should have been an Antonioni actress. Next to her is green-eyed Carmela, not yet sixty. And the old lady is María Vidaud Trutié, not quite a matriarch, but nonetheless imposing as she presides over four generations. Severe, inquisitive, she looks a little like I remember Bebé Vidaud, her nephew, in his last years.

Just over a year after this picture was taken, on 31 October 1963, my parents and I would leave Cuba — for my sake, they claimed — on a long one-way flight from Havana via Gander to Madrid. Another revolution, that of 1789, had taken the first Vidauds, including our direct ancestor, François, to the Caribbean. But that’s another story — or maybe not, maybe it’s the same old tale of endless migration.

IV – Dead Family Reunion

Granda - Foto de FamiliaWhat remains after all are dead? What can I know of their past? One thing I have is images — sweet silent photographs containing a residue of that elusive dead souls’ society we call our ancestors. Here is another picture of nine dead relatives, Carmela’s family, likely taken in the early 1920s. Unlike her two sisters pictured earlier at what may (or not) be La Reunión, Maria Vidaud Trutié, the black-gowned lady in the front row, was a married woman with a loving husband and a large family of seven children. Her pregnancies were difficult, I’m told, but she dispelled morning sickness by drinking champagne. Standing right behind her is her oldest daughter, the saintly María, and right behind María is Manolo, the little boy in that earlier picture, now a young man with interesting eyeglasses and an intellectual demeanor. To María’s left, at the center of the photograph, is green-eyed meditative Carmela. The other young man is Fernando, who could never have imagined then that he’d spend more than three decades in a cold northern city named Boston, where he would die. Next to him is Emma, who died in Miami, as did little Adela right in front of her, the youngest, born in 1914, and whose Exile was spent mostly in Mexico. The other girl, to the right of her mother, is Margó, whom we know little about; she broke up with her siblings after an inheritance dispute, moved to Havana, and died there sometime before the revolution. The man in the front, my great-grandfather, is Manuel J. de Granda, a war hero of sorts and the author of two books about the process of Cuban independence.

1 - A Man in Havana, c. 1910Here again, in an earlier photograph taken in Havana circa 1910, is Manuel J., Capitán del Ejército Libertador. He did not die a romantic death, but could have. His father, Manuel de Granda y González, was born in Oviedo, Spain, had a medical degree from Salamanca, and had gone to Cuba as a doctor with the Batallón Covadonga of the Spanish Army. As a native of Asturias, he may have had the Reconquista in mind as he contemplated those Cuban rebels, the mambises, rudely seeking independence from Spain. Manuel J., his own son, was a mambí. In the hope of nipping those ideas in the bud, Manuel sent Manuel J. to Costa Rica, where his wife, Corina Odio, had numerous relatives. But it didn’t work. In Costa Rica, Manuel J. met up with Antonio Maceo, one of Cuba’s great heroes. Intent on taking part in a new war against Spain, they, with twenty-one other men, sailed out of Puerto Limón on the Adirondack, a New York-bound steamer that, after a stop in Kingston, Jamaica, dropped them off on Fortune Island, in the Bahamas. When Columbus, that other Caribbean mariner, made landfall on that little isle on 19 October 1492, he called it Ysabela, in honor of Isabel de Castilla; four centuries later, Maceo and company were fighting against another Spanish monarch of the same name, Isabel II. The island is now known as Long Key, and there they boarded a schooner named Honor bound for Oriente. They landed at a place named Duaba, near Baracoa, where one can now visit a monument to Maceo and the brave men of the goleta Honor, a name that I heard Carmela mention many times during my childhood. With much pride, my grandmother would also refer to her father’s later appointment as chief of police in Santiago de Cuba — a fact I sometimes recall as I jaywalk around downtown Los Angeles — and as a member of the Academia de la Historia de Cuba.

But what interests me most about Manuel J. is the love story and, more specifically, how he met María. Early in the course of the war, the young man was captured and taken prisoner to the Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca, a seventeenth-century fortress at the entrance of Santiago bay. There, deprived of his liberty, he met the woman who would become his wife. What prompted a young lady of French descent to visit a jailed mambí in a colonial dungeon is not clear, but Ana María Esteve thinks that María’s and Manuel’s families were somehow related, yet another twist in the family twigs I haven’t figured out yet. According to some family lore — but I find it improbable — María knew only French when she met Manuel J. in his castle prison, and decided to learn Spanish in order to speak with him. In any event, Manolo and Maluya, as they were called, were married for more than fifty years.

As an author and soldier, there’s much about Manuel J. de Granda on the web. Historians frequently cite his two books as sources for the study of Cuba’s War of Independence, and he has undergone a minor (very minor) revival as a character in a Cuban docudrama about the Honor produced by the Instituto Cubano de Radio y Televisión, the Ministerio de Cultura and (gasp!) the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias. The show explores the accidental death — or was it murder? — of James McKenney, the English captain of the Honor. It’s a complicated story, but suffice it to say that it ended with José Martí himself writing a letter to the British consul in Santiago de Cuba explaining the incident. It’s all in the past now, but the ghost of McKenney still haunts the honor of the Honor.

As for his father, Dr. de Granda, I’ve found a quick reference to his death in January 1916 — just a couple of month before E.L. Ekman went foraging at La Reunión — on a site belonging to the Conservador de la Ciudad Santiago de Cuba. It reads, “Fallece el médico, doctor Manuel de Granda y González, muy estimado por todos excomandante médico de batallón Covandonga del Ejército español que residió mucho tiempo en Guantánamo, era el padre del patriota comandante Manuel J. de Granda, que a su vez falleció en el reparto Vista Alegre el martes 2 de diciembre de 1952.” The irony is inescapable. As much as Dr. de Granda, who stayed in Cuba after independence, was “esteemed by all,” his son, the “patriot commander,” somehow trumped the paternal glories. After he died, a horse-drawn carriage transported Manuel J.’s body to Santa Ifigenia, the city’s cemetery, where Martí too is buried.

As for Maluya, María Vidaud Trutié, my great-grandmother, there’s really nothing on the web about her, but that, I hope, is being remedied as I draft this blog. After all, she is a pivotal figure in this ancestors’ tale. She is the oldest person I ever met who descended directly from one François Vidaud du Dognon de Boischadaigne, born on 26 January 1764, the seventh of fourteen children, and, as far as I can tell, the first Vidaud in Cuba, the seed of my Cuban Gauls.